The saint behind the Queensferry Crossing

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Who was the ancient Scottish queen who lends her royal title to the name of the biggest construction project in Scotland?

The Queensferry Crossing, as it is now known, is due to open in December 2016. The name was chosen from a shortlist of five, whittled down from a longlist of 7,600 suggestions made by the public.

The public’s choice of Queensferry Crossing reflects the area’s rich history

Alex Salmond

The shortlist was drawn up by a panel of judges and many of the more outlandish suggestions - such as Rab C Nes-bridge - were left out.

Members of the public were then asked to pick their favourite from the Queensferry Crossing, Caledonia Bridge, Firth of Forth Crossing, Saltire Crossing and St Margaret’s Crossing.

The eventual winner won a third of the 37,000 votes cast.

The then First Minister was confident it was an appropriate name for the 1.7 mile bridge.

“It was Queen Margaret in the 11th century who introduced a ferry to carry pilgrims across the Forth, giving the communities on either side of the firth their name,” Mr Salmond said.

“The public’s choice of Queensferry Crossing reflects the area’s rich history.”

Her name already adorns several schools, a rail station, a hospital, a hospice and a university. But who was Queen Margaret?

To understand the saint’s life you must look back more than 900 years to a time when the kingdom of Scotland was a predominantly Gaelic speaking country and England was the centre of a vicious power struggle between Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Normans.

Margaret is thought to have been born around 1045. She was an English princess, the daughter of Edmund the Exile, who himself was the son of Anglo-Saxon king Edmund Ironside.

As her father’s name suggests, her early life was spent living abroad. Margaret was born in Hungary, a consequence of Edmund’s expulsion from England in 1016 following the Danish conquest.

The family returned from mainland Europe in 1057 with hopes of reclaiming the English crown, only for Edmund to die within two days of his arrival - most likely murdered by one of his many rivals for power.

Margaret’s brother, Edgar, then became heir presumptive. But his hopes of becoming king were thwarted first by Harold, of a rival English faction, and finally the Norman conquest of 1066 when William, Duke of Normandy, invaded from the south.

Edgar was proclaimed king following Harold’s death at the battle of Hastings but was too young and inexperienced to lead a fight back against the mighty William the Conqueror.

He fled England with Margaret in 1068. Tradition dictates the family were bound for the continent but a storm blew their ship off course, and they were forced to seek shelter in Scotland.

They landed at a site today known as St Margaret’s Hope, between present-day North Queensferry and Rosyth Dockyard, and where the new Queensferry Crossing is now being built.

This was a fortunate turn of events for Máel Coluim, the Scots king remembered as Malcolm Canmore. He welcomed these Anglo-Saxon exiles to his court at nearby Dunfermline.

Malcolm, a widower with two sons, married Margaret sometime before the end of 1070. This royal power couple would have eight children - three of whom would later become kings - establishing a dynasty that would rule Scotland for the next 200 years.

But the new queen’s influence went far beyond raising a family. Her biographer Turgot, bishop of St Andrews, wrote that Margaret tamed Malcolm’s warrior style of kingship and encouraged him to invest in a programme of church building and charitable endeavour.

What this also meant was the Scots church fell into line with the Roman church with which she was familiar.

Margaret was said to serve orphans and the poor every day before eating her own meal, and rose at midnight to attend church services.

She invited Benedictine monks to found a new order in Dunfermline, resulting in the abbey that survives today, and paid for restoration works to be undertaken in Iona.

Famously, Margaret established the first regular ferry crossings across the Forth between the settlements now known as North and South Queensferry to allow pilgrims to reach St Andrews.

Margaret died in 1091, three days after she learned her husband and oldest son had been killed in battle at Alnwick.

Saint Margaret was canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1250 in honour of her personal holiness, religious reform, and charity. She remains Scotland’s only royal saint.

Her shrine was destroyed during the Reformation of 1560 but several of her relics were said to have been recovered, although are now thought lost.

St Margaret’s Chapel, in Edinburgh Castle, was founded by her son David I and is considered Scotland’s oldest surviving building.